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This is How Press Photos Were Transmitted Back in the 1970s

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In our world of digital photography and high speed Internet, photojournalists can quickly and easily send large numbers of high-res photos to the other side of the globe. Things weren’t always so convenient.

The video above shows what a photo transmitter looked like back in the 1970s. What you see is a United Press International UPI Model 16-S, which scanned photos and then transmitted them using a telephone line.

In a 2012 blog post for The Dallas Morning News, photo director Chris Wilkins offers a glimpse into how the UPI 16-S worked.

First, you place a print on the drum and start the transmitter. The drum then rotates at a consistent speed while a scanning beam would move slowly across the photo, scanning one line at a time. Transmitting the analog signal required a connection to a phone line. The Dallas Morning News shares this photo showing how the UPI 16-S could be connected to a rotary phone:

Photograph by Andy Scott/The Dallas Morning News
Photograph by Andy Scott/The Dallas Morning News

Using this type of transmitter was painfully slow: one black and white photo took 8-9 minutes to send, and subsequent devices for color photos weren’t faster.

“If you were lucky enough to get a perfect telephone line for sending the picture, one color photo took a minimum of 26 minutes to transmit,” Wilkins writes. “Sending internationally took twice as long, sometimes up to an hour per photo.”

The UPI 16-S was used from the early 1970s up through around 1991 as better technologies emerged for transmitting photos.

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